A bill to force Texas public schools to display the Ten Commandments failed

A push to instill religion in public schools across Texas faltered on Tuesday after the state House failed to pass a controversial bill that would have required the Ten Commandments prominently displayed in every classroom.

The move was part of an effort by conservative Republicans in the Legislature to expand the reach of religion into the everyday life of public schools. In recent weeks, both chambers passed versions of a bill that would allow school districts to hire chaplains instead of licensed counselors.

But the Ten Commandments Act, which passed the state Senate last month, remained pending before the Texas House until Tuesday, the last day to approve bills before the session ends next Monday. The legislation expired before receiving a vote.

The bills appeared to test the openness of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court to reconsider the legal limits of religion in public education. A court ruled in favor of Washington State football coach Joseph Kennedy last year in a dispute over his constitutional right to pray with players on the 50-yard line.

“The law has undergone a major overhaul,” said Matt Krause, a former Texas state representative and attorney at the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal nonprofit focused on religious liberty, during a state Senate hearing last month. “It is no exaggeration to say that the Kennedy case was to religious liberty what the Dobbs case was to the pro-life movement.”

In recent months, religious groups in several states have expressed interest in seeing how far states might go in directly supporting religious expression in public schools. This month, the South Carolina Legislature introduced its own bill Display the Ten Commandments in all classrooms. In Oklahoma, the State Board of Education was asked earlier this year to approve the creation of an openly religious charter school; The board ultimately rejected the application.

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“Forcing public schools to display the Ten Commandments is part of a Christian nationalist war,” said Rachel Lazer, president and chief executive of Americans United, a nonprofit advocacy group. group. He pointed to new laws in Idaho and Kentucky that would allow public school staff to pray in front of students, and a bill in Missouri that would allow elective Bible classes. “It’s not just in Texas.” she said.

The Texas bill to display the Ten Commandments was similar to another bill passed in 2021 during the last legislative session, which would have required public schools to accept donated posters bearing the motto “In God We Trust.” Patriot Mobile is a conservative Christian cell phone company based out of Fort Worth Among the first to make such donations After the bill was passed.

But the law on the Ten Commandments went further. It required schools to display posters of the words “in a conspicuous place in each classroom” and “in a size and typeface that can be read by a person with average vision from anywhere in the classroom.”

The bill states that schools that do not put up their own posters should accept donated posters. The law also specified how the commandments were to be given, including the capital letter that stated: “I am the Lord your God.”

The words taken from the Protestant version of the commandments from the King James Version of the Bible are the same words that appear on the monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. Governor Greg Abbott successfully advocated for the monument’s placement when he was state attorney general. For more than a decade Before the Supreme Court.

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Laws allowing school districts to hire chaplains or accept them as volunteers address a problem in Texas and other states: Shortage of school counselors. Opponents of the measure said the clergy did not meet the requirement because counselors lack expertise, training or licensing.

“The way the bill is designed, a school board can choose not to have counselors, family specialists, school psychologists and make them entirely clergy,” said Democratic Representative Diego Bernal of San Antonio. During the trial this month.

“If the schools feel it’s a necessary thing, I think they can make that decision,” replied the bill’s sponsor in the state House, Republican Rep. Cole Hefner of East Texas.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 763, passed the Texas Senate and then the House; Now Mr. Chambers. Final version must be approved before sending to Abbott.

The Ten Commandments bill, known as Senate Bill 1515, passed smoothly through the state Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a hard-right Republican, wields enormous power. He Appreciated the bill “We can take a step to ensure that all Texans have the right to freely express their sincere religious beliefs.”

But after moving to the Texas House, the legislation faced a common problem in the Republican-dominated Legislature, which meets every two years and was introduced this session. Over 8,000 pieces of proposed legislation: Deadline in the legislative calendar.

Tuesday is the last day to pass the bills. While the Republicans rushed to do so, the Democrats, who had less direct power, delayed action by talking long hours and at every opportunity, which is known in the Texas Capitol “Subbing.”

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In doing so, they prevented the Ten Commandments bill — and several other controversial measures placed late on the day’s calendar — from coming to a vote.

“This bill is an unconstitutional attack on our basic liberties, and we’re glad it failed,” David Donati, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said in a statement. “The First Amendment guarantees families and faith communities — not politicians or the government — the right to nurture their children’s religious beliefs.”

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